Thursday, July 25, 2013
Braves will survive loss of Tim Hudson
By David Schoenfield
The Atlanta Braves have used just six starting pitchers all season, and the sixth guy, Alex Wood, started one game because the Braves needed a spot starter for a doubleheader.
None of the five would be likely to be labeled an ace -- Mike Minor has been the best, with a 2.98 ERA in 130.1 innings, worth 2.3 WAR, 20th among National League pitchers. If you want to call him an ace, I won't argue, as he's been very good.
Overall, the Braves have a 3.67 rotation ERA, fifth best in the NL behind the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers. They're eighth in the NL in OPS allowed and fifth in innings pitched. The key hasn't so much been their excellence but their health; the Braves haven't had to dig up a bunch of extra arms, and the result has been a solid, if spectacular, rotation.
But the injury bug has finally arrived. Wood will start Thursday in place of Paul Maholm, who is on the disabled list with a left wrist contusion. The big injury came late in Wednesday's win over the Mets, when Tim Hudson collided with Eric Young Jr. on a play at first base and broke his ankle. He'll miss the rest of the season and the Braves will miss their spiritual leader, so to speak. "That's a big blow," Dan Uggla told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the game. Huddy is such a leader on the field and in the clubhouse, and in the dugout when he's not pitching, so this is a tough one."
"He's huge," Brian McCann told the Journal-Constitution. "I mean, he's the veteran presence around here that people go to. It's Tim Hudson. The guy's got 200 wins, and he's the best teammate you're ever going to have. Everybody in here feels bad for him."
Eric Karabell is a big fan of Wood, who has pitched well in relief after dominating in the minors to start the season (1.31 ERA, one home run and 62 strikeouts in 62 innings in 11 starts). I like him as well, and the second-round pick in 2012 out of Georgia will now get a few starts to prove himself. The Braves will soon have another starter ready, however: Brandon Beachy pitched six innings in a rehab start in Triple-A on Wednesday, allowing one run, and could take Hudson's spot. Remember, when he went down last season to Tommy John surgery, he was leading the NL in ERA. That's not a guarantee he'll pitch well, especially since his control has been shaky during his 40 rehab innings, with 20 walks, including four last night, but he is a guy who was good when we last saw him.
Hudson was 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA, and while the ERA is his highest since a 4.86 mark with the Braves in 2006, his peripherals were just as solid as always (his strikeout rate was actually up 4 percent over 2012). Still, while they'll miss his leadership, they should be able to replace his production. If he was projected to allow about 3.7 runs per nine innings over an estimated 70 innings the rest of the year, that's about 29 runs. A replacement who allows 4.4 runs per nine would allow 34 runs -- or about one win of value. And it's possible that Wood and/or Beachy will pitch better than that.
Of course, that doesn't account for Hudson's leadership, if you wish to account for that. I guess he can still sit in the dugout and offer his support if it's so valuable.
The Braves lead the Phillies by eight games and the Nationals by nine. In the unlikely event that Atlanta blows its lead, Hudson's injury won't be the reason. For one thing, the Phillies (minus-57 run differential) and Nationals (minus-31 run differential) show no signs of playing their way back into the race. It will take a Braves collapse and a surge by one of those teams to make this race. I don't see both of those happening.
The bigger concern may actually be the postseason rotation: Outside of Kris Medlen's start in last season's wild-card game, Hudson is the only starter with postseason experience. It's likely he would have lined up as the No. 2 starter behind Minor. Of course, as with leadership, postseason experience is an overrated trait. But that's another article. I'll miss watching Hudson pitch, but I still expect to see the Braves in the playoffs.